K. Dean Myers, interim pastor
Fairmount Presbyterian Church
Sunday, September 18, 2011 || 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time/14th Sunday after Pentecost on the occasion of the Ordination and Installation of Church Officers
Scripture: Exodus 16:2-15 & Philippians 1:21-30

Philippians 1:21-30

21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Exodus 16:2-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ 8And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’

9 Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

I

My mother tells me that when I was as very small child I drove my family crazy asking, “How come?… How come the sky is blue, the grass is green, the moon changes shapes?” and on and on and on… She told me that several months ago when I was telling her about our nearly-three-year-old granddaughter constantly asking, “What’s that?… That’s a lion…What’s that lion?…It’s an animal…What’s that animal?…Something that lives and can move…What’s that…?” All parents and grandparents know the drill, I am sure.

Children and questions go hand-in-hand. One sign childhood is over is the cessation of questions and questioning, and along with that, the stifling of a reflective sort of curiosity. Unfortunately, many live life after childhood slumped deep into passive acceptance of things as they seem to be. They are curiosity’s couch potatoes, perhaps questioning things when roused to anger, but nere asking things as a matter of happy habit.

The children of Israel moved between being very sure of themselves and asking tough questions during their long journey from Egypt’s enforced security to Canaan’s holy promise. Often they acted as if they knew it all. In today’s reading they concluded that this exodus thing was a big mistake; that it would have been far better to stay in the safety of Egypt’s slavery. “We’re destined to die of starvation out here in this desert,” they complained and grumbled to Moses and Aaron. Their complaints were so frequent and bitter that their leaders, never that certain of this whole venture themselves, began to doubt themselves and their role. Moses and Aaron too complained and grumbled to God, expressing their personal frustration at having been triangulated into an un-winnable situation.

But then God spoke to Moses and told him to lighten up, relax, and let God do God’s thing: to send bread and meat for the people to eat. God would do this miracle in such a way that everyone would know it was the Lord who had done it.

God’s gift of food for God’s hungry children was not only to fill their stomachs. It was to test whether the people would be up to the call to live each day in complete trust in God’s power on their behalf. Each day would only bring enough food for that day, enough food for each person for that day. This bread of heaven was not to be kept and stored to be eaten on some future day, unless that future day was the approaching Sabbath when they were forbidden to do the work of harvesting and preparing it.

Why was this food gift a test? Because it asked them to trust God enough to know that just as they had received food today, they would receive food again tomorrow, and again the day after that, and yet again the day after that, enough each day to satisf each person’s hunger. God’s provisions on this journey were granted one day at a time, and the only truly faithful prayer they could pray was, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Then came the gift: when they woke the next morning, and looked out on the brutal landscape around them, it was covered with something like frost, but surely of more substance than frost. It was, God had promised, nothing less than “the glory of the Lord” in the form of mere bread. Astounded, the hardened and desperate people of Israel because Israel’s children again, and dared to ask, “What is it?” Which is, in popular Hebrew etymology, “man-hu,” for centuries transliterated into English as “manna.” Sort of like a child looking at a new dish on the table and sneering “What’s that?”

And Moses replied, “What is it? It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. I thought you’d never ask!”

II

This morning I want to encourage all of us at Fairmount to ask all the “what is it?” questions we have in the coming weeks and months.

The interim journey that you have been traveling since February, a journey on which I am joining you somewhere in its middle, is a prime time for asking all the questions about Fairmount Church and our relationship to it. We dare ask because there’s bread to be gleaned in those questions as well as in the answers to them that we harvest together.

I am pretty well convinced that there are some questions we may not need to ask. Are we grateful for Fairmount’s history and its mission? I think so. Do we hope only the best for Fairmount’s future? I believe we all do. Do we love this church? Yes, that’s clear.

But within those greater questions there are myriad finer questions.

We are grateful for Fairmount’s near hundred-year history and, I believe, for her mission and outreach ministries. But have there been rough spots along your way, some troubling to many, others perhaps just to a few, or only to ourselves. Why did they happen? Could they have been prevented? Could we sharpen our mission and outreach to our community? Could we make a greater difference than we are now making? What is the relationship between social outreach and evangelistic outreach, and do we do both with conviction? What gaps and lacks concern us? “What “its” in Fairmount’s life and mission make us happy and which of them concern us?

We want the best for Fairmount’s future, of course. But are we prepared to make changes we might need to make to help secure that future? What kind of leadership will you need from your next pastor and from the staff and lay leadership in order to pull us all together to work together for our beloved church’s common good? Can we improve communication and understanding between leaders and leadership groups as we make decisions about finances and staffing and mission priorities that will determine the nature of Fairmount’s future? What are the “its” we must do better so that the Fairmount of the future thrives in faith and witness?

And we love this church…but how to do we show that love? What is our personal commitment to Fairmount, and through Fairmount, to Jesus Christ? Do we love the church as a mission outpost dedicated to serving others, or do we love it as a pleasant home that serves us…or do we love it because it is some of both? Is our financial giving to Fairmount a true reflection of our love for Christ’s ministry here? Do we know the percentage of our annual earnings that we give to the church? If not, why not? If so, is that percentage consistent with our loving words? What are the “its” in our personal lives that demonstrate our personal commitment to Fairmount?

Questions abound, and I invite you to ask them and to help me ask them. I don’t delude myself into thinking I can or should do all the asking or all the answering. It is you who must ask “What is it?” about any and every aspect of Fairmount’s life and ministry, and it is you, together, with one another, who must finally answer all those questions as best they can be answered. I will help you do that.

Your part is to let me know your questions, which might come in the form of either concerns or of joys, about Fairmount church. I invite you to talk with me, either one-on-one in the pastor’s study or in your home or place of business. Call me up to make an appointment, and let’s talk. Or you can express yourself when you sit down with other Fairmounters in meetings and social gatherings, asking questions respectfully and openly, not accusingly or judgmentally (very hard for some of us!). In all these settings I will be listening carefully to you, and I will be encouraging you to listen just as carefully to one another.

Listening…and asking…and listening…and asking all are necessary to open us to receive the gifts of God. It is how Jesus taught his disciples, and it is how Jesus’ disciples learned from him. Remember: “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. “What it is?… How come?… What’s that?” are keys that unlock the doors to God, that give us entry to the banquet where there’s bread enough for all to eat.

III

Theodore Wardlaw, president and professor of homiletics at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, writes that,

“[Bread is] this extraordinary ordinary thing which God gives in such abundance. [Bread is] a homely example of the smorgasbord of giftedness that surrounds us. Such giftedness does not save itself for mountaintop moments but rains on us constantly…[and] we depend on the grace of a gracious God whose provisions never fail – unlike our attempts at providing for ourselves.”

And then follows a paragraph that I am certain he wrote for me, and for us…

“We preach to people who, like the Israelites in the wilderness, are either so preoccupied by past experience or so anxious about the future that they are often unable to see the graces available to them in the present moment. They are unlikely to ask the incredulous, grateful question: ‘What is this?’” (Christian Century, September 6, 2011, p. 19)

Let us prove Wardlaw wrong about that as we together ask “the incredulous, grateful question: ‘What is this?’” of every aspect of our gifted life together. Then – together – let us trust God to give Fairmount’s grand and vibrant community of faith bread to feed us each day of our journey. Amen.

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